Bar Mitzvah Gift by Rabbi Meir Orlean
The Blooms were celebrating the bar mitzvah of their son Nosson in the shul where Rabbi Dayan davened. They had invited friends and relatives from afar for Shabbos.
A guest, Mr. Victor, came over to Rabbi Dayan on Friday night, after davening. "I brought a gift for the bar mitzvah boy, an artwork for his room," he said. "It's not mutkzeh and the eruv is up. Can I bring it with me tomorrow morning and give it to him at the Shabbos meal?"
Rabbi Dayan considered for a minute. "You shouldn't do it," he said. "The Poskim say to refrain from giving gifts on Shabbos. I need to hurry home, since guests are waiting, but will explain to you tomorrow, b'e"H."
The following morning, Mr. Victor came to shul. After leining, the shul Rabbi delivered an enthusiastic sermon, in which he praised the bar mitzvah boy based on insights from the parashah.
At the end of the sermon, the Rabbi called Nosson to the pulpit. "In the name of the shul, I would like to present you with this sefer," he said. The Rabbi handed the sefer to Nosson.
Mr. Victor turned toward Rabbi Dayan with a questioning look. "Rabbi Dayan said not to give a gift on Shabbos," he said to himself.
After davening, Mr. Victor came over to Rabbi Dayan: "Excuse me for asking," he said. "I thought you told me that one is not allowed to give gifts on Shabbos. The Rabbi, though, gave Nosson a gift in the name of the shul. How was it permissible to give him the sefer?"
"I promised you an explanation," replied Rabbi Dayan with a smile. "I guess the time has come for that!
"Chazal prohibit transactions on Shabbos and Yom Tov, even when not entailing melachah, lest a person come to write," explained Rabbi Dayan. "According to most authorities, this includes giving gifts. Therefore, Magen Avraham questions the practice of giving gifts to a chassan on his aufruf Shabbos" (Mishnah Berurah 306:32).
"Nonetheless, the Sages permit gifts for the purpose of a mitzvah, such as giving a lulav and esrog on the first day of Sukkos," continued Rabbi Dayan. "Similarly, they allow transactions for the purpose of Shabbos, such as procuring food items that will be used on Shabbos, with limitations regarding payment and language to avoid making it a commercial transaction" (O.C. 323:4).
"Does anybody provide justification for the practice of giving gifts, though?" asked Mr. Victor.
"Some dispute the premise that handing over gifts on Shabbos and Yom Tov is included in the prohibition of transactions," replied Rabbi Dayan. "Others consider the joy of the chassan a mitzvah purpose, especially in the context of a drashah" (see Pischei Teshuvah, E.H. 45:1; Yechaveh Daas 3:21).
"According to the prevalent view, what can be done?" asked Mr. Victor.
"One possibility is to grant the gift to another before Shabbos on behalf of the bar mitzvah boy, based on the principle of zachin l'adam shelo b'fanav (one can acquire for anothe in his absence)," replied Rabbi Dayan. "This can be done even if the boy won't be bar mitzvah until Shabbos, and is still a minor on Erev Shabbos. Alternatively, the boy can intend not to acquire the item until after Shabbos" (C.M. 243:18; Rema C.M. 245:10; Yehudah Yaaleh, O.C. #45).
"In truth, a sefer is less of an issue," added Rabbi Dayan. "The bar mitzvah boy is encouraged to browse the sefer on Shabbos. There is also an element of endearing Torah so that it has an aspect of mitzvah" (Sereidei Eish, O.C. #83; Piskei Teshuvos 306:22).
"Thus, there is basis for the practice of giving the bar mitzvah boy a sefer on Shabbos," concluded Rabbi Dayan. "It is certainly permissible if the sefer was acquired on his behalf by another before Shabbos, the boy will use the gift on Shabbos, or he intends not to acquire it until after Shabbos" (Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasa 29:31).